A Dangerous #Occupation

Social media platforms have been flooded with tweets, status updates, images, and videos tagged or associated with the #Occupy movement.  A majority of the content is harmless, but in recent days attention is being drawn to seriously provocative or incriminating content against one or both sides. Protesters and authorities operate aware that their actions are being publicly broadcasted through these outlets. The world is recognizing that through the vast size and power of these platforms, one tweet or a few seconds of video footage have the potential to cause irreparable damage to the reputation of an individual or an organization.

Aside from messages of political charge and class unrest, one dramatic message that the #Occupy movements have brought to light is the fact that social media remains largely unregulated in its relative infancy. For years, the FCC and the FTC have tightly regulated advertising to prevent false information, defamation, slander, and other kinds of damaging information, whether founded or unfounded.  These rules generally do well to protect brands from attacks across traditional media, but the same cannot be said about social networks. In the online space, users are able to criticize others with great freedom.

Accordingly, brands must engage social media with a certain level of trepidation; careful measures must be taken to ensure that the message broadcast to these enormous and greatly diverse audience is consistent and authentic. Whereas the advertising realm has become formalized and civilized, the battle for beneficial digital or social media marketing is more akin to a turf war. One misstep can be highly destructive to brand affecting customer loyalty. The volatility of the #Occupy movement should be a warning signal for brands.  Social media is a powerful yet unstable force, and will remain so until the regulatory environment matures.

Oh, The Horror!

Years after the internet gave birth to ‘viral’ marketing, the industry is experiencing the early stages of a cultural shift: the use of memes to push commercial interests. Memes, ideas or behaviors that spread from person to person in a social environment, are now being communicated mostly through the media and the internet.  The impact is significant to consumers, whether consumers are aware if it or not.

Traditionally, scary themes would make an appearance around Halloween.  And yet, now, these prominent memes no longer resurface just for Trick or Treat.  Vampires of both the horrific and harmless variety have become increasingly prevalent subject matter in books, television, and film, spawning a ‘vampire mania’ and creating numerous successful media franchises. Borders Books, although closed, had an entire section dedicated to “Teen Paranormal Romance.”  TV shows such as AMC’s The Walking Dead capitalize on society’s fascination with the idea of a zombie apocalypse. This premise is so powerful that it has fueled an entire segment of the film industry for nearly 50 years following 1968’s Night of the Living Dead.  Fear of the supernatural, the mysterious, and the macabre is an experience shared by all people, making these subjects appealing and easily relatable for audiences. Leveraging this idea, publishers and studios become wildly successful as these series garner remarkable followings.

Not every meme needs to become incredibly popular to achieve some commercial success. Meme creation and promotion is geared to many of the same goals as viral marketing, meaning that often times, a meme may only create a small but very solid following, which can constitute effective internet marketing in certain niches.

So as All Hallow’s Eve approaches, consider how effectively many businesses utilize memes in marketing. Campaigns built upon these ideas work because they are tuned to experiences that are shared by users. Make a connection with these touchstones and tap deeper into a market.  And watch out for zombies!

Which Way is Up?

The state of the advertising industry has received mixed reviews by the media. The New York Times reported from the annual conferences of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) that speakers and audiences were worried about the ‘sluggish’ pace of the industry’s growth. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs reports that online advertising will grow by 14% this year and 10% next year.

The prospects for digital advertising are certainly still bright. Yahoo introduced two new formats for advertisements within its popular Messenger and email applications, showing confidence in the promise of social interaction platforms. On a similar note, PricewaterhouseCoopers released findings of soaring advertising rates on social networks, claiming that the slower economy encourages a shift from traditional to digital media. The cost efficiency and high level of visibility of the digital social space are key indicators for advertisers.

Following this industry conversion, social networking today also fuels trends in traditional media. No longer is it just the early adopters engaging with digital advertising, but people from all market segments and demographics. Even traditional outlets such as television viewership are now heavily affected by the general audience’s level of exposure to interactive ads, viral video, and social media during their time online. With literally billions of clicks through these channels every hour, there is more than plenty of incentive to push advertising towards this space.

So what is the next step for advertisers? One speaker at the ANA conference suggested that uncertain times increase willingness for risk-taking. For advertisers, regardless of the medium, the challenge is to innovate more than ever before.

Mobility, Productivity, Birds in a Slingshot…

Mobile gaming has certainly gained traction with users since Tetris became the first game to go mobile in 1994. Mobile games are now fully integrated with social platforms, driving unprecedented user engagement. Global revenue from mobile gaming grew from $2.6 billion in 2005 to $5.8 billion in 2008. Assuming the same rate of growth, the industry could be bringing in more than $10 billion in 2011.

One game in particular has been successful in leveraging the power of word of mouth marketing and social media to garner ‘must download’ status.  Introducing Angry Birds, which started as a simple physics game, but has become a social phenomenon and launched a full-blown enterprise.

With more than 300 million downloads to date, Angry Birds has quickly become the single most used application in the world. The concept of the popular game may seem odd; players propel various birds using a slingshot to exact revenge upon green pigs, who have stolen the birds’ eggs.  Asinine as the premise may be, users have become addicted and are joining the global conversation. The game’s social impact includes a Facebook page with more than 5 million fans, as well as the Angry Birds Forum and Angry Birds Nest, dedicated social forums to discuss strategies, tactics, frustrations, and ideas.  Television personalities like Conan O’Brian and John Stewart are talking about the game on their programs. Companies such as Sprint have even licensed Angry Birds for use in advertising.

Angry Birds is the best example of how social gaming, leveraging the advantages of the mobile marketplace, capitalizes on the nature of its users to spread content virally. Other mobile games, like the popular Words with Friends, have exploited social engagement and gone viral, but nothing has come close to the wild popularity of Angry Birds. With licensed merchandise on store shelves and even a possible movie on the horizon, how big will the sphere of influence become? And beyond that, what will be the next big thing to hit social mobile gaming?

“Going Global” is the new “Going Viral”

I remember that fateful morning of September 11, 2011 when two planes had hit the World Trade Center. I was at work.  One of my co-workers was listening to the radio. Instantly, we were intently focused on the silver box (yes, the radio) because the office didn’t have a TV.  We listened to the news unfold as it was reported.

Nearly 10 years later, the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death circled the globe within seconds of the official word of his death.  The report broke before the President finished his remarks, let alone made it to the podium. It’s being called a media frenzy – a social media frenzy.

Facebook’s Osama Bin Laden is DEAD Facebook page received more than 150,000 “Likes” within 2 hours, nearly 300,000 “Likes” by morning. Surely the number has tripled by the time this blog post has been published.  Twitter was abuzz with nearly 4,000 tweets per second during President Obama’s speech. Per second!?

Social media has certainly been linked to its fair share of controversy with inaccurate reports, stories, etc. However in this instance, the sheer power of social media connected global audiences with unprecedented quickness enabling the world to discuss this historic news.  Adam Ostrow said it best in a blog post that social media has become a “real-time discussion board.”  And to no surprise, we all have a lot to say.

We’ve surpassed viral…and gone global.